The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown

Monday, June 13, 2011

Title: The Weird Sisters
Author: Eleanor Brown
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Publisher: Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam, 2011
Source: Purchased on Kindle

Rose, Bean, and Cordy (aka Rosalind, Bianca, and Cordelia) live with a Shakespeare fanatic. Their early lives consist of their father's quotations and their strained relationships with each other. Once they reach adulthood, they all lead very separate lives, until their mother's breast cancer brings them all back home. Are they going to get through the experience by tolerating each other, or will they make some kind of peace?

Okay, first of all, kudos to Eleanor Brown for taking a concept that could have been really gimmicky and making it work. I am a Shakespeare novice, but still an avid admirer thanks to an awesome middle school teacher that took us to the Boise Shakespeare Festival every year. I loved the quotes the sisters' father used to answer questions, and I loved the parallels drawn between the sisters and the characters they were named for - Rose's lifelong search for an Orlando, Bean's need to escape the shadow of her older sister, and Cordy's place in their father's affections. The concept was well executed. Second of all, the cover is beautiful. Can I get that font somewhere?

In my mind, there is a fine line between chick lit and good literary fiction written mainly about women's relationships. I read both genres, but chick lit is more of a guilty pleasure, something to peruse when I need a break from life, and literary fiction about women is more nourishing and less stereotypical. I wasn't sure which I would be getting with The Weird Sisters. There are elements of both, but I think it leans more strongly to the literary fiction side. Reasoning: while it does abound in drama and there are a few scandalous situations, in general the point of the book is to explore the deeper meaning of sisterhood and self-fulfillment as a woman. (Another example of a book that straddles this self-invented line in my mind and falls off on the more intellectual side is The Help by Kathryn Stockett). I am getting a bit off topic. My point is that this story explored some terrain worthy of extra thought. One of the story lines that most interested me was Rose's journey to assuming she needed to do everything for everybody to wondering if that drive was really an insecurity related to the fear that people wouldn't like her for any reason other than her competency. (This struck a chord with me because almost everything about Rose spoke to me - I am definitely the Rose in the family, minus the homebody tendencies). Cordy experiences the question in reverse - can she be accepted and live a life in her hometown instead of running away from the expectations and potential disapproval? Bean's line of exploration asks how she can redeem herself from the somewhat criminal life she lived before returning home. They each find answers to these questions, but with some major setbacks along the way.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the characters, given that they all had some very unlikeable traits. I genuinely had the emotional reaction to them that Brown was trying to elicit. Sometimes in books, I know that I am supposed to hate X character because they did Y horrible thing, or that I should love Handsome Prince number 1 because he possesses Excellent Quality number 87, but often that desired emotional response never gets past my intellect. With The Weird Sisters, I not only knew that Cordy was the lovable, fun sister - I liked her instinctively, even though she had some flaws that really bothered me. I especially reacted to Rose, again, because I felt a kinship with her. I am the oldest of three siblings as well, although we have a brother thrown in, and I am known in the family as the goody goody. I broke curfew once in high school and I think I only skipped class once. As a result, like Rose, I am sometimes left out of the loop while the younger siblings whisper secrets to each other. And I'm sure, like Rose, I come off as bossy and controlling at times (although I try to minimize that as much as possible). It was interesting to read about a character who had so many of the same responses to life as I did (although magnified in Rose). I think this book is about learning who you are and then learning to both transcend and accept that person. This is how Father Aidan, the town priest, sums it up:
We all have stories we tell ourselves. We tell ourselves we are too fat, or too ugly, or too old, or too foolish. We tell ourselves these stories because they allow us to excuse our actions, and they allow us to pass off the responsibility for things we have done - maybe to something within our control, but anything other than the decisions we have made.
Maybe it was because of the characters and how real they seemed that I didn't hate the "we" narration. I loathed it in The Jane Austen Book Club and felt pretty uncertain about The Weird Sisters once I learned it was used in that book as well. However, it brought a feeling of solidarity to the story - despite the fact that the three sisters were so different and butted heads so often, they were telling it together. They influenced each other and helped each other to grow, and I don't think the story would have worked as well if it had been told in the third person or alternating first person.

This post is getting too long, but I have to share one more aspect of this book that I adored. It is getting to be a theme in my reviews, and I'm sure you've already guessed - bookishness. The Andreas family is obsessed with reading, and their book perusal is a delightful piece of the story. "How can we explain what books and reading mean to our family, the gift of libraries, of pages?" Bean in particular seems to love books, and I have so many quotes underlined it is hard to choose which one to share (I am saving up some of them for my Quotables feature). The one I'm including might shock my mom a little bit, but it made me laugh at loud -
She had long ago given up being offended by men who compulsively showered after sex. It was an excellent time to get a little reading done without anyone trying to talk to her.

Baha. For me, prime reading time is when my husband brushes his teeth (not quite so scandalous) - it takes him almost five minutes and is the perfect chance to swallow a chapter.

Overall, I had a great experience with this book. It had the lightness and fun of a chick lit book with a more serious exploration of self and family.

4 stars

Warnings for the sensitive reader: Some swearing with a few scattered f-bombs, non-graphic sexy scenes, and one random incident involving pot.


  1. I've seen lots of mixed reviews about this one. Your review managed to sort things out a bit :)

  2. Your review includes all of the things I really enjoyed about this book. I don't read a lot (well, any) chick lit, and it's hard to find books that are about relationships but seem more literary or intellectual. But this one really did that for me, and I was charmed by it. I'm glad to hear The Help is similar -- I'm reading that later this summer with my sister.

  3. I have read a lot of really positive reviews on this one and I can't wait to get my hands on it. Although I am also a Shakespeare novice, i have a deep appreciation for the bard and I can't help but feel a little bit excited about anything that keeps his words alive in the modern age. Great review: I love the quotes you shared!

  4. I'm quite keen to read this - I often lament the lack of books about women's relationships that aren't cheesy chick-lit, it's just not my cup of escapist fiction.

  5. I'm glad that you enjoyed this! I was disappointed by it - it was almost a DNF for me, except I actually bought the book new and wanted to get my money's worth. I did up giving it away to a friend though.

    BTW, I love bookishness in books too! That was one of the definite positive points of this book.


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